SPOILERS ALERT! If you’ve not played Breakdown yet go do so before reading these posts as they contain, amongst other things, a full walkthrough!
Now that I had a rough story I got a pad of paper and sat down for an hour or two working out all the puzzles and effectively writing a step-by-step walkthrough of the entire game. I’d say this is an almost essential step because it shows you exactly what you need to get done, and lets you see how far you are into the game’s development.
Neat handwriting is purely optional. This walkthrough also isn’t as detailed as it could be, the reason being that because the game is so short most of the design is in my head so this only has to act as a reminder of all the components and their order.
Puzzles are difficult things to come up with. The basic method I use to create them is to focus on the overall objective and come up with a series of tasks the player must complete, or obstacles they must overcome in order to get there. In Breakdown the objective is given in the MAGS rules – the ship cannot move and the player must repair something.
Ok, so lets say the player has to repair the ship’s engine. What could be wrong with the engine? Well, what things do you have to do to maintain a car engine? How about the radiator needs filling with water.
*Water + Engine = Repaired Engine.
That’s a little simple. Ok, where do we get the water from and how does the player transport the water to the engine?
*(Container) + Tap = Water in (Container)
*Water in (Container) + Engine = Repaired Engine
Where can we hide a tap? Well, how about in plain sight? Let’s put it right in front of the player in the first room they can interact with, the sleeping quarters, where it also makes logical sense. By the time they’ve discovered they need water, they’ll probably have forgotten all about it!
What about the bowl? Well, we could leave it lying around, but that would need somewhere logical for it to be like a kitchen or dining room. I can’t think of anything else I want to do with either of these rooms, so how about a food vending machine like they have on Red Dwarf? I can put that in any old corridor and it’ll add some character to life on the ship by making the player interact with background objects. What’s more If I can think up a use for another item of food I can make the player use the vending machine more than once so it seems less of a gimmick. How do I stop them ordering all the food at once though? By making the food cost money, and giving the player different amounts of money at different points in the game so that they can’t buy the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Suddenly something as simple as topping up the water level in an engine’s radiator has become
*Money + Vending Machine = Bowl of Soup
*Bowl of Soup + Tap = Bowl of Water
*Bowl of Water + Engine = Repaired Engine
Add to that a need to top up the oil level and the fact that you can’t even get to the engine in the first place, and you start to get an adventure game.
Some puzzles are born of necessity to make something more difficult, others are put in because they add character or make a good joke. I already mentioned the joke about the ship’s captain being bald (like Picard) and having his head polished. Suddenly I’ve got an opportunity for two puzzles – one in which the aim is to get the can of polish, and the other in which the solution involves a can of polish!
To be continued…